Hello, everyone! I just watched Netflix’s new original movie Gunpowder Milkshake, and it’s, well, exactly what you would expect from a movie with that title. Lots of shooting, a stacked cast of A-List actresses who are too talented for such a corny script, and bubblegum feminism. The cherry on top is the fact that this movie is written and directed by two men. I can just picture Reid Hastings and Ted Sarandos whispering in their C-Suite. What do the women want? Feminism? Well, give them a lady version of John Wick. And damn it, don’t you dare let one of them females near the camera!
Synopsis: Fifteen years ago, Sam’s assassin mother Scarlet disappeared, leaving Sam in the care of The Firm. Now Sam works as one of their top killers. When Sam is ordered to recover some stolen funds, she stumbles across a kidnapping and ends up saving eight-year-old Emily, but accidentally kills Emily’s father in the process. Determined to save the girl, Sam decides to enlist the help of her “Aunts,” all trained assassins who have once worked for The Firm. Together the women must battle against The Firm’s goons to save Emily and leave their life of servitude for good.
My thoughts: Gunpowder and milkshake: the two genders. Imagine if one director took Kill Bill: Volume 1, Mia’s milkshake from Pulp Fiction, the neon aesthetic of John Wick, and the diner from Riverdale and you’d have this movie, which is so overstuffed with style that it leaves little room for story. While I can’t deny that I loved the neon color palette, Karen Gillam’s orange-creme bowling jacket, and eight-year-old Emily as a whole, a few standout elements are not enough to save 120 minutes of mostly tedious gun-fights, monologuing, and slow-motion glances.
Before I get into the bad stuff, I’ll mention the parts that I did like. The set design is imaginative–I especially loved the library set on a canal. The soundtrack is eclectic and does most of the emotional heavy lifting. The stars of the film, Karen Gillan, Lena Heady, Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Chloe Coleman, were fantastic, somehow making a leaden script relatively buoyant. The chemistry between motherless Sam and fatherless Chloe Coleman is the movie’s greatest asset, and Chloe Coleman, who is only 13, has a glorious career ahead of her.
Now for the bad. For a shooty-shooty movie (a genre also lovingly chronicled in my review of Wrath of Man), it’s really boring. I’m not faulting Karen Gillan for this at all, but her fight scenes were pretty terrible. This is a movie that was crying out for professional stuntwomen to sell the idea that Sam and the rest of the Aunts are lethal weapons, and instead we get fight choreography that is sloppy, inauthentic, and impossible to take seriously. In one scene, an unarmed Sam fights off 3 armed men at the same time, which might be believable if she was Wonder Woman, but doesn’t cut it when she’s Karen Gillan. I don’t know who dropped the ball on making the violent part of this violent movie look good, but they might want to find another line of work. The movie tries to make up for these pitiful fight scenes by applying generous slo-mo, but it only emphasizes the lameness of the whole endeavor.
And now, for the very bad. Any movie that starts with a flashback is doomed to fail, and Gunpowder Milkshake waits barely three minutes before indulging in an extended flashback scene. This scene provides the audience’s first glimpse of a formula that the movie will repeat over and over again for the next two hours: weak writing + rushed character development + great music track + slow-motion = emotion. In this five minute flashback, we learn everything we need to know about our two main characters, namely that they are mother and daughter, and the former isn’t so good at the mothering part. Like all movies about women, there must be some conflict between motherhood and career, or else it would be impossible to express the essential anguish of womanhood. To hammer the point home, the rest of the movie is an extended allegory about restoring the mother-daughter bond. It’s so refreshing to see a movie where women can be assassins and mothers, too.
Gunpowder Milkshake is one of many recent movies that is ostensibly about “feminism” but is really little more than girl-power catchphrases in a shiny package. Written, directed, and edited solely by men, the movie tries its best to seem like it’s elevating women, while betraying itself with its own shoddy script. Take, for example, the final battle scene, in which the villain (of which there are many), says this to our hero Sam:
“I’ve always considered myself a feminist. When my first daughter was born, I was over the moon. Painted half of the house pink. It was all unicorns and lollipops. Then a second daughter was born, and a third, and a fourth. Girls, always whispering at the dining table. Always giggling in dark corners. I loved my girls, but I don’t understand them. Then my son was born. It was different. Simple. We understood each other. I wasn’t alone anymore.
This quote is a perfect summation of the the movie’s essence: that women have worth, but are still “other.”There are girls in this movie, and the movie loves them. They are beautiful and feminine and worthy of adoration, but they are also mysterious and inscrutable. They are other. They cannot co-exist with man. Man, in his simplicity, exists to undermine them. And woman exists to fight against this undermining. Although the women in this movie are worthy in their own right, in the eyes of the film, they have no purpose except to fight against men. Their entire world revolves around throwing off men’s yoke. Their existences are inextricably tied to men, which exposes the film’s specious understanding of what feminism really is. Like many male-written movies about feminism, Gunpowder Milkshake posits that feminism is about women beating men, when in reality I’d argue that feminism is about erasing the power differences between men and women, so that women no longer exist only in comparison to the “default” sex.
What this movie reminded me of from the start is another Netflix original, The Perfection, which I reviewed here. That was another movie written and directed by men that pretended to be saying something profound about feminism, when it was really just soft-core lesbian porn meant to titillate straight men. Gunpowder Milkshake isn’t that egregious; it really tried to make a frothy little film with a lead bullet at it’s core, but in trying to be “feminist,” it signed its own death warrant. Men can make good feminist films. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Park Chang Wook’s The Handmaiden are examples of stellar feminist works written and directed by men. But really, and it shouldn’t be so fucking hard at this point to understand this, the best feminist movies are the ones written by women. Because women understand what it means to be women in ways that men never can. Every time Netflix comes out with a “feminist” movie that is completely created by men, it feels like a huge “fuck you.” A movie like this is the definition of pandering, and I’d like to throw a gunpowder milkshake in the face of whichever Netflix prick signed off on it.